Monday, August 23, 2010

Robert’s guide to not being annoying in the theatre 

Before I start, I shall point out straightaway that I commented on this exact same topic this time last year. No doubt I shall comment on it again. Last time the comment was a footnote in a longer posting but now I’ve decided on a larger canvas. I shall probably repeat myself in writing this but it needs saying.

Why is it that people do not know how to behave in the theatre?

I don’t mean whether to stand up for the right parts of Mamma Mia! but in simple courtesy both to the performers and to the other people in the audience. People can be so rude.

David and I have just come back from the final week of this year’s Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton. The shows were good and every one we saw was an excellent production. I’m not going to review them here. Other people have, no doubt, made a much better job elsewhere.

There were, however, a few flies in the ointment. The audience seemed to have no concept of where they were. Most seemed to think that they were at home watching television and behaved accordingly. I am surprised that people hadn’t turned up in their dressing-gowns with a mug of cocoa.

I thought it might help if I laid down a few guidelines …

  1. If you’re in the front row of the circle, you will have probably been sold a ticket with the words “restricted view” on it. This means that there is a wall and a railing and if you are below a certain height you should really aim to get other seats. It doesn’t mean that you have to lean forward on the nice comfy railing and block the views of the people behind you with your head. Justifying it with “we’re short” really doesn’t wash. You shouldn’t be sitting there.
  2. If you find someone in your seat ask politely to check their tickets. Don’t assume they’ve sat in the wrong seats. It might be you. Don’t imply that they weren’t able to read the numbers properly or that knowing the difference between A and AA is “confusing”. You just come across to the people sitting behind you as a patronising cow.
  3. If you must eat sweets during the performance, please make sure they don’t have wrappers. It’s amazing how far the sound of rustling carries. We could clearly hear the sound of some woman unwrapping a couple of sweets with exquisite slowness four rows in front of us. Doing it slowly doesn’t help. Just don’t do it.
  4. The same goes for water bottles. By all means drink water but don’t sit there squeezing the bottle and making that lovely clicky noise.
  5. And while we’re on the subject of water – buy a bottle either before the show starts or comfortably during the interval. Waiting until 19 minutes and 55 seconds into a 20 minute interval before deciding you are thirsty is verging on stupidity.
  6. A little tip – the music and the singing are not there to cover up the sound of you having a chat with your neighbour. A word here or there is just about OK but having a prolonged discussion is just not on and we can still hear you whispering.
  7. If you suddenly realise that there isn’t a full orchestra when you were expecting one, please don’t bellow “there’s no orchestra!” at the top of your voice. The actors on the stage probably already know.
  8. Bring children – yes. Bring children that are too young to appreciate what they are seeing or to not chatter at the tops of their voices – no. Bring one or two children – yes. Bring every child in your extended family – no. Iolanthe may be about fairies but it isn’t intended for children.

Going to the theatre, a concert or even the cinema is not the same as sitting at home watching television. There are other people there. The other people have paid good money to see and hear the production, whether it is a play, an opera, a dance or a film. They haven’t paid to see the back of your head or the lovely cardigan that Aunty Mabel knitted or to listen to your whispering.

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I love this -and fully endorse it's content. My particular favourite has to be the guide regarding the consumption of sweets. Ian Henderson :-)
Absolutely agree! You could also add that the overture is not there in order for you to have an extra few minutes chat until the curtain rises. I also attend the G&S Festival and the rise in the number of people with no consideration for others is increasingly noticeable each year.

You are SO right, and I am only surprised that you managed to write so calmly and rationally! The sort of behaviour that you describe makes me wild. It's a pity that people like you (and me) can not be employed as a species of class-monitor, to patrol the aisles with lo-o-ong rulers to whack the knuckles of anyone misbehaving in the theatre...!

unfortunately Buxton Opera House Box Office sell restricted view tickets saying "if you lean forward you can see most of the stage"!
I agree with everything except your comments about sitting in the front row of the circle. I *am* short, and the only way I can guarantee that my view will not be blocked by the head of the person in front of me is to sit in the front row! However, I do not consider tall people to be intentionally rude because their heads are in my way...
I couldn't agree more with this. If only the offenders read and obeyed these simple rules, the theatre would be a much more pleasant place. I would add to this the "arquebus" effect, where there is a loud bang on stage. A startled exclamation immediately afterwards is fine, to talk about what a fright it gave you for a full thirty seconds afterwards is NOT.
Agree with all the comments whole heartedly, especially about the talking! (One night I had a lady behind me with her 5 yr old granddaughter - I could just about bear the little girl's quick and whispered questions but NOT the grandma's long winded replies - especially when grandma then went on to point out bit's of buisness that said granddaughter hadn't even asked about! I gave grandma a polite but firm earful in the interval along the lines of paying to hear the show not her!)

I don't think the front row circle seats do say restricted view (Unless they are at the sides)infact my understanding is that they have a maximum, rather than a minimum height reccomendation due to the lack of decent legroom. However I do agree that it's annoying when people lean forward in them!
Hurrah! I would also extend this advice to members of the bronchitis community. Has there ever been a concert or theatre performance that hasn't attracted a healthy attendance from this national institution? In keeping with performing traditions that date from the 16th century, not only are we engaged by choruses of coughing (the sonority of which betrays years of study and devotion to this venerable art), but in keeping with stylistic practices of the period we hear it all in full antiphonal exchanges. Perhaps the person wandering around with the large ruler might also carry a gun firing elephant tranquilizers.
I agree with MOST of what is said, however, some who are privileged to sit in the front dress circle wish to see the orchestra from time to time, and so lean forward. What is NOT acceptable is someone behind banging them on the shoulder at telling them to lean back during the show.
putting in my (Robster's Mum here as in other comment!) oar on the coughing comment:

As someone who did have a cough while at the festival I hope I didn't annoy anyone with my cough and tried really hard to just cough in the applause (as I do get irritated by people coughing too) but I was't going to waste my ticket because of a slight tickle!

Also, I doubt he is reading this, but I would anyway like to thank the gentleman who was sitting next to me during Oxford Uni's 'Ida' who kindly gave me a few throat sweets to help with my cough and was so polite about it. I promise I only unwrapped them during the applause!
Of course, I agree with all the above, but sometimes the audience upstaging the action can be gloriously charming. I recall a very small child whispering to his best friend a couple of rows behind me during a production of Mikado. The comment that G&S was a lot shorter than Wagner was a gem, but the best part came later when the child (Obviously the son of the singer essaying Nanki Poo) squealed loudly at Katisha's entrance, with the immortal whisper to his friend "That's the lady who wants to marry my Daddy!".
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